Professors Rapp, Vigodner and Prodan Secure More than $1 Million in Competitive Research Grants

Three Yeshiva University professors—Dr. Margarita Vigodner, Dr. Chaya Rapp and Dr. Emil Prodan—have been awarded major federal grants to pursue cutting-edge research at Stern College for Women. Collectively, they will bring more than $1.2 million in grant support to the college over the next three to five years.

Margarita Vigodner

Dr. Margarita Vigodner

“The accomplishments of these faculty members are particularly remarkable in these uncertain times when U.S. science agencies are targeted for budget cuts,” said Dr. Anatoly Frenkel, chair of the division of natural sciences and mathematics at YU. “It is also noteworthy that these recent awards went to our undergraduate faculty, who were competing with colleagues from much larger groups that included graduate students and postdocs. By winning these awards, Professors Rapp, Vigodner and Prodan are helping other YU science faculty by raising YU’s name recognition with science agencies.”

A Diverse Range of Fields

Vigodner’s grant, a $500,000 Academic Research Enhancement Award (AREA) R15 from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), will facilitate laboratory studies of the process of sperm formation. The R15 program awards medical research grants to universities and colleges and is intended to provide students with research experience.

According to Vigodner, that process is crucial for the achievement of normal male fertility and the prevention of birth defects. The studies will focus on the role novel proteins (known as SUMO) play in the process. “Our studies will lead to a better understanding of possible causes of previously unexplained cases of male infertility and the development of novel safe contraceptives,” she said.

Chaya Rapp

Dr. Chaya Rapp

Rapp’s grant, also an R15, allots $250,000 to support research in the field of computational chemistry, with a particular focus on the molecular mechanisms of disease. “We model small molecular changes on the computer and ask, ‘What is the connection between these structural changes and downstream physiological effects?’” said Rapp. Some of these effects include whether an HIV virus is allowed to enter a cell or whether cancer will spread.

Prodan was granted $425,000 to study the developing field of topological insulators, a new class of materials that may be useful in future technologies such as electronics, computers and clean energy generation, under the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) prestigious Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) program. This marks Prodan’s second NSF grant in two months. His first, awarded in July, focuses on problems in quantum physics that have the potential to significantly impact the fields of nanoscience, solar cells and energy conversion and storage.

Dr. Emil Prodan

Dr. Emil Prodan

Hands-On Experience for Students

For all three professors, student involvement will be a key component of their work. Rapp and Vigodner’s grants both support three years of summer fellowships for undergraduate students, with student-professor research collaboration throughout the year. In addition, Prodan’s grant includes scholarships for three undergraduate students for five years and features a series of workshops called “Condensed Matter Blackboard Lectures,” which will convene accomplished scientists and students to share research and ideas. “Students will see that there are no experts,” Prodan said. “Some of us are older and some are younger, but we are all still learning.”

Zeeva Levine, a Stern College junior majoring in the physical sciences who conducts research with Rapp, felt the sense of excitement and discovery among Stern science faculty added to her passion for the field. “Seeing that our professors are so dedicated really nurtures my own love of science,” said Levine, who hopes to be a chemical engineer. “I feel like I’ve gained a lot by working with Dr. Rapp. It’s so important to understand how the research world works, and now that I’ve done this I feel I can go on to do research in other areas even more closely related to my field of study.”

“The robust research agendas of our faculty contribute daily to the superb education of our science students,” said Dr. Karen Bacon, the Dr. Monique C. Katz Dean of Stern College. “Mentored by the faculty and included in their projects, Stern College women learn how to frame questions and seek answers to some of the most important questions and problems facing science today.”